Thorpedo, you've got mail . . . loads of it

According to statistics from IBM, since FanMail was launched in July, a total of 180,559 FanMail messages have been sent, with 21,521 messages sent on Wednesday alone.

Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe has received the most mail, with eight out of the 10 most popular athletes being Australians.

Despite the huge following from the public, Australian athletes are not embracing the internet with the same vigour as some other Olympic athletes. The total number of Australian athletes visiting IBM's Athletes Surf Shack located in the Olympic Village places Australian 17th in the world rankings.

The top countries in terms of athletes visiting the Surf Shack are Argentina, Cuba, Spain, Germany and Canada, IBM said. Athletes are only able to retrieve FanMail messages from the Surf Shack.

In addition, only 68 out of a total 628 Australian athletes have created their own home pages. In total, 2745 athletes have built home pages, according to IBM.

Meanwhile, similar enthusiasm for Thorpe has been experienced at rival message site Heromail.com.au, where mail to the gold medallist has increased 77 per cent since the start of the Games.

Heromail, which launched in June, has averaged 446 emails a day since the start of the Olympics with swimming scoring 2,343 so far.

Matt Fitzpatrick, executive producer for Heromail, said: "Hits have steadily grown since our launch, but nothing like the first day of the Olympics. It's hard to say how many hits we will get during the Olympic period as the number is growing every day."

Fitzpatrick said the site, which took nine months to get up and running, mostly due to the massive task of collecting data and liaising with national sporting bodies, was not launched as a direct competitor to IBM's FanMail site. "This site is for all sport in Australia and it will run 365 days a year, it's not just for one sport or one event," he said.

The emails sent through Heromail are sent to the athlete's relevant national sporting body, and forwarded to the athlete from there. Olympic-specific mail will be sent to a communal location at the Athletes Village where it will be distributed, although it will still go to the sporting body in question.

"The mail doesn't directly go to the athlete and I haven't actually spoken to any athletes about what they think of the mail, but the general feedback is that it is a positive thing and gives the athletes a positive lift," Fitzpatrick said.

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